State officials have gone three-faced on Atlantic Yards.
The Empire State Development Corporation — which approved developer Bruce Ratner’s the $4-billion mega-project last year — says it will create two new positions to oversee the project, in addition to an already created (though yet to be filled) job of “environmental monitor.”
The announcement comes two weeks after a partial collapse of the Ratner-owned Ward Bakery on Pacific Street during preliminary demolition. ESDC said the timing was merely a coincidence.
“This [new oversight] has been in the works since at least early March,” said agency spokesman Errol Cockfield.
The ESDC press release announcing the two new positions — an “ombudsperson” and an “owner’s representative” raised more questions than it answered.
“What has happened to the environmental monitor [and] where does this person fit into your … structure?” the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods asked in a letter. “What exactly will the ombudsman do?”
Well, according to the ESDC, the ombudsman “will work as a full-time liaison between ESDC, elected officials, community representatives and the general public [and] ensure that … community concerns receive proper attention.” Meanwhile, the owner’s rep “will serve as ESDC’s representative to monitor the construction activities performed by the developer at the project site.”
And at the same time, the environmental monitor will oversee “the activities of [Forest City Ratner] and its architects, consultants, engineers and construction contractors with respect to impact avoidance and mitigation.”
Cockfield admitted that the positions would have some overlap, but said that any overlap would create “additional oversight.”
Local pols said the move was overdue. “This sort of oversight should have been put in place from the get-go, but it is good to see that ESDC has taken steps,” said Sam Rockwell, a spokesman for Councilman David Yassky (D–Park Slope).
Yassky’s colleague, Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights), was not as satisfied: “The community is still left out. My office gets e-mails and calls every day. People worry about asbestos and air quality, street closings, water service interruption, and many other issues. My office is clearly not set up to deal with these issues. … I hope the ombudsman will fill the void.”
Cockfield suggested that the ombudsperson would do just that, serving as a point of contact for the community and elected officials. The environmental monitor will alert ESDC to damage to existing infrastructure, and monitor such things as noise, air pollution, traffic, and rodent infestation. The “owner’s rep” would bring concerns to Ratner.
“It’s going to be an intense level of oversight,” he said, adding that ESDC had been planning the move all along.
“This was not in reaction to the Ward Bakery,” he said.